Bronx DA Darcel Clark

Bronx DA grapples with criminal justice reforms ahead of reelection bid

On November 5, Bronxites will likely reelect the unopposed Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark for her fourth term, as crime decreases in the borough and big criminal justice reforms come out of Albany.

Clark was first elected to the position in 2015, becoming the state’s first woman of color to do so. Since she took office at the start of 2016, crime throughout the city has declined. 

Clark focused on youth decarceration before new statewide legislation raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18. Since 2016, the Bronx has seen a sharp drop in non-violent felony arrests of minors, and Patrice O’Shaughnessy, Clark’s director of communications, attributes this to Clark’s policies.

“DA Clark has long been in favor of alternatives to incarceration for youths,” O’Shaughnessy said.

As of last October 16-year-olds can’t be charged with misdemeanor offenses; 17-year-olds were included on October 1. 

This led to the citywide decline in teenage arrests. The Bronx saw the largest dip, 40 percent for 16-year-olds in the borough and 43 percent for 17-year-olds since 2016, compared to 12.5 percent and 20 percent in Manhattan. 

January will bring other statewide reforms, including changes to discovery – the legal process in which lawyers reveal pertinent information to the court. It will be more difficult for district attorneys citywide as they need to provide more information in a shorter time.

Clark takes issue with the legislation, saying demands are too rigorous for her office’s resources. She spoke about the challenges at a hearing on the new rules,

“Discovery reform strives to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system by making it fairer for anyone who must be a part of it. Still, no matter how willing we are to carry out the reforms, we will not be able to comply, if there are no additional resources,” she said.

Regardless, some attorneys in the public sector would like to see these tough demands. Peter Jones, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society in the Bronx, wants a more thorough discovery process, an area he feels Clark could improve.   

When it comes to lowering incarceration rates, Jones believes the DA does well by fairly sentencing bail.

“There is no question that we are experiencing positive changes in terms of the number of instances in which her assistances are asking that people be paroled or released on their own recognizance.”

While the DA supports bail reform, she’s no apologist for violent offenders. 

“We will make sure the people that are supposed to be in jail will be in jail,” she said while speaking at a September meeting for the Pelham Parkway neighborhood association.

At the meeting she confidently referred to her next term with a focus on alternatives to incarceration, including mental health initiatives. Working with state criminal justice reforms, Clark’s goal isn’t to lock people up,

“I’d rather prevent them from coming into the system in the first place,” she said.

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